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Belgian railways CEO attacks bad results of satisfaction survey

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Trains’ punctuality is a strong indicator of customer (dis)satisfaction whatever the country. In countries where trains are still operated by public organizations (France, Germany, Belgium, …) operational objectives are usually set by the State to guarantee that efforts are put into satisfying travelers.

In Belgium the quest for more satisfaction led to a “fight” between Belgian railways’ CEO, Jo Cornu, and Customer Defense Association Test Achats.

The story

Last week Jo Cornu, the CEO of the Belgian railways, attacked publicly the results of a satisfaction survey published by Test Achats. Jo Cornu criticized the ethical code of the association and said “it would fit on a stamp”. In other words, he insinuated that the satisfaction survey conducted by Test Achats was biased. The reaction of Cornu can be very well understood when one compares the “official” SNCB results and those presented by Test Achats.

The SNCB launched in 2014 a vast and controversial reorganization which led to changing completely the train schedules. These changes were realized to have better “on-time” KPI’s and decrease, as a consequence, dissatisfaction linked to late trains. The CEO felt that the results of Test Achats were not representative of the reality.

A problem of methodology … and timing

The satisfaction survey conducted by Test Achats was published when Jo Cornu had to present the first results of the reorganization. Obviously, when an association like Test Achats publishes results that contradicts how the CEO perceives his achievements, one can logically expect a harsh reaction. And it is exactly what happens.

Yet the reaction of Jo Cornu is not –entirely- unjustified. Test Achats collected the data before the reorganization and measured therefore the satisfaction before all train schedule changed. Moreover, and that’s another big difference, the very definition of satisfaction is not the same.

In the case of the SCNB train’s punctuality is the only criteria, whereas Test Achats considered that customer satisfaction was created by a series of other factors like service and cleanness.

Who is right and who is wrong ?

Basically no one is wrong, but no one is right either.

First of all, the timing is bad and Test Achats should have published its results at a different time to avoid the confusion.

Second, the same definition of customer satisfaction should have been used to get comparable results. Whereas the satisfaction KPI of the SNCB may be too simplistic (punctuality only), those used by Test Achats may actually not be representative of perceived satisfaction either. While it is true that service quality and cleanness for instance may indeed play a role in overall customer satisfaction, their impact may be minimal compared to punctuality. It would therefore have been advisable to use weighing factors to reflect this effect.

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Author: Pierre-Nicolas Schwab

Dr. Pierre-Nicolas Schwab is the founder of IntoTheMinds. He specializes in e-commerce, retail and logistics. He is also a research fellow in the marketing department of the Free University of Brussels and acts as a coach for several startups and public organizations. He holds a PhD in Marketing, a MBA in Finance, and a MSc in Chemistry. He can be contacted by email, Linkedin or by phone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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